Bob Holt is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
'Sam-alytics' fail Hogs again on fourth down
Arkansas running back Rashod Dubinion takes a handoff from quarterback KJ Jefferson during the third quarter of a game against BYU on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — For the second consecutive game, University of Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman went on fourth-and-1 in the second half when his team was leading.
The Razorbacks didn’t get a first down either time, but it didn’t hurt them last week against Kent State as Arkansas pulled away to win 28-6 after a defensive stop forced a punt and stayed ahead 14-6.
The fourth-down play the Razorbacks didn’t covert hurt them in a big way against BYU on Saturday night.
The Cougars took advantage of their fourth-down stop and beat Arkansas 38-31 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Arkansas led 31-21 when Pittman decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the 50 with 7:14 left in the third quarter.
BYU linebacker AJ Vongphachanh stopped running back Rashod Dubinion for no gain.
The Cougars took advantage of the momentum swing and got a field goal to pull within 31-24 and start a 17-0 run to end the game.
Against Kent State, Dominique Johnson was tackled for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-1 from the Arkansas 34 on the Razorbacks’ first drive of the second half.
After that game, Pittman thanked the defense for bailing him out.
“I can tell you the analytics say to go for it,” Pittman said in his Kent State post-game news conference. “The Sam-alytics says, ‘Don’t.’
“And I went for it. … That was kind of dumb.”
So what did the Sam-alytics say Saturday night on fourth-and-1 from the 50?
Pittman said he felt it was a good call to go for it from midfield compared to the Razorbacks’ 34.
“I thought we could get it,” Pittman said. “I went for it, and obviously we didn’t.”
Pittman was asked about the swing in momentum when the Cougars got a stop.
“I really don’t know,” Pittman said. “It’s hard to say because I guess we could say all the points after that came because of that play.
“I know three of them came off of that play. I don’t know that the other 14 did.
“I mean, I don’t know. Who’s to know? I know three of them did.”
Pittman seemingly became frustrated when asked again about the fourth-down call considering Arkansas’ defense was playing well.
“I mean, we were up 14-0 and they went on a 21-0 run in the first half, and I don’t think it was because we went for it on fourth down,” he said. “I think they were making third-and-longs, and we couldn’t get them off the field.
“If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t go for it on fourth down. Obviously, we didn’t make it.”
Pittman was asked the strategy behind having KJ Jefferson — Arkansas’ 247-pound senior quarterback — in the Shotgun on fourth-and-1 rather than under center for a sneak opportunity.
“We were very, very concerned about running the sneak because they were jumping into ‘Bear,’” Pittman said, referring to a five-man defensive front. “They had the guards and the center [covered].
“It’s easy to say that you’ve got a big quarterback and you can go get a first down, but they’re in ‘Bear’ and plugging ‘A’ gaps, so they basically have five guys in there to your three.”
Arkansas’ defense wasn’t able to respond to the Cougars getting a short field twice in the second half — including a Jefferson interception that led to a touchdown — in the same way it had against Kent State.
“When they get momentum, we have to kill it,” Arkansas junior defensive end and team captain Landon Jackson said. “That’s what our defensive coaches stress to us.
“There are going to be ups and downs of the game, and whenever they’re up we have to bring them right back down.
“We can’t let them keep blowing up their positivities, because that’s how a team gets momentum. I mean, at this level of football it’s a game of momentum, so we’ve got to kill it.
“We were up by 10. We’ve got to score more. We’ve got to stop them when they get the ball back. Man, we’ve got to capitalize on their mistakes.”
After BYU took a 38-31 lead, Arkansas was set to go for another fourth-and-1 from its 34 with 6:47 left, but senior guard Brady Latham was called for a false-start penalty and the Razorbacks punted on fourth-and-6.
Pittman said that before the penalty, Arkansas had planned to snap the ball and wasn’t trying to pull BYU offsides.
“We were going to go for it,” Pittman said. “The only problem there was if we go for it there and don’t make it, the game is over.
“I did have the three timeouts, so that was the conversation that we had. [Offensive coordinator] Dan [Enos] thought we could get it.
“But yeah, we jumped offsides on that one.”
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.